Wednesday, January 24, 2018

St. Francis DeSales and Laity Praying the Hours

Tell me, please, my Philothea, whether it is proper for a bishop to want to lead a solitary life like a Carthusian; or for married people to be no more concerned than a Capuchin about increasing their income; or for a working man to spend his whole day in church like a religious; or on the other hand for a religious to be constantly exposed like a bishop to all the events and circumstances that bear on the needs of our neighbour. Is not this sort of devotion ridiculous, unorganised and intolerable? Yet this absurd error occurs very frequently, but in no way does true devotion, my Philothea, destroy anything at all...  
...that the type of devotion which is purely contemplative, monastic and religious can certainly not be exercised in these sorts of stations and occupations, but besides this threefold type of devotion, there are many others fit for perfecting those who live in a secular state
-from the Office of Readings, memorial of St. Francis DeSales bishop

While reading St. Francis DeSales' advice to a laywoman about how create a practical spiritual life, I realized that today's saint is a good patron for us Coffee&Canticles folks. We're ordinary laity who have discovered a treasure in the Liturgy of the Hours. We've found that praying with the Word of God, arranged by the Church to fit the liturgical calendar, gives our days a holy framework that manages to be structured and "official", yet at the same time deeply personal, as we make the psalmists' cries of praise, thanksgiving, sorrow, contrition, and love our very own. 

At the same time, we sometimes struggle when our (good and praiseworthy) desire to say each day's Office properly--the correct choice of prayers (or a theoretical 'best" choice when options are offered), the right time of day, the right rubrics--comes smack against the wall made up of our personal time constraints, our jobs, our duties to our families, and our own habits, personalities, and desires. I see this all the time in the questions that I"m asked. Things like:

"I work a night shift and go to bed at 8am. Do I say morning prayer before I go to bed, or may I say Night Prayer?"
"Someone told me that I have to say Morning Prayer at 6am and Evening Prayer at 4pm because that's what monks do."
"Is it wrong to substitute a hymn that I actually known how to sing instead of just reciting the words of one that I don't know how to sing?"
"I used to do all 7 liturgical hours each day but now that I've had a baby I can't handle this and I'm feeling guilty. Is it okay to scale back to just lauds and vespers?"
"Does listening to an audio version of Morning Prayer on my way to work "count"?

 If St. Francis DeSales were the one writing this blog, well, it would be a much better written blog. But beyond that little detail, I  think he would frequently begin answers to such commenters with the words, "Relax, my child."

Because we are not monks. We are not religious. We are not contemplatives. Therefore we should know that, "He brought me into a place of freedom" (Psalm 18 v.20) where we can adapt our daily prayer routine to the circumstances of our lives. The times of day we chose, the book or app we use, the number of daily hours we consistently mange to do--it's all up to you.  Yes, some days it may not be a strict act of liturgy, but it will still be prayer!  

Here are a few ways I've adapted the Liturgy of the Hours to my secular state in life, when the need arises:

*I've often chuckled to find myself praying "Awake lyre and harp, I will awake the dawn," at 10  or 1030 in the morning. No, I do not feel compelled to instead do mid-morning prayer because I'm no longer in the vicinity of sunrise. I'm not a monk. 
*On Sunday morning, getting ready for mass often precludes sitting down at length with my breviary. So I consider mass itself to be my "morning prayer" and later, after we've come home and had breakfast, I go straight to the Office of Readings.
*If I have to be driving somewhere at the time I"d normally pray on of the hours, I bring a tablet and listen to an audio version of the Liturgy of the Hours, a combination of listening and joining in aloud for the parts that I know by heart. 
*I only pray one of the daytime hours, choosing the appropriate one according to what time of day it occurs to me to do it. Most of the time that is mid-afternoon prayer, and often at the time those fabled monks are already saying vespers.
* If I've missed (whether through competing  duties OR neglect) one or more hours, I simply let it go. I don't try to say them all at the end of the day to make up for it. I'm not a priest. Alternately, I might go back and just read through the antiphons and/or the reading. 
*If I've crashed into bed in exhaustion, then realize I didn't do Night Prayer, I'll say Sunday Night II from memory ("Night holds no terror for me, etc.") no matter what night of the week it actually is. 

How about you? Do you find ways to follow St. Francis DeSales advice to adapt prayer to your vocation when life gets crazy? (Even if it is crazy every day?)